Coronavirus COVID-19 and the measures put in place to try to prevent its spread have had a massive impact on everyday life here in the UK, and the world of mountain biking has been far from immune to its effects. We’ve spoken to people from all corners of the bike industry – from venue and shop owners to event organisers and team managers, manufacturers and distributors – to find out just how hard the crisis is hitting them and how they’re reacting.
Martin Astley – Founding Director, BikePark Wales
“On 18 March we made the decision to close our uplift, as we just didn’t feel we could comfortably continue to operate and not spread the virus. It was an incredibly hard decision for us to make – we essentially switched off our own life support, as the business cannot survive without the uplift operation.
“We had planned to operate as a pedal-only venue to keep the bike park open to customers and retain as many staff as possible in work, but the PM’s lockdown announcement on 19 March meant we had to close the business in full from the 20th and we have no idea when we’ll be able to re-open. We totally support the lockdown, but the implications are heavy.
“We will be back – we have SO much awesome new stuff to share that we’ve been slaving at for the past 18 months and we just can’t wait to see customers here enjoying the trails again in the not-too-distant future. We plan to launch our new green trail the day we re-open, so that’s something for everyone to look forward too!”
Alan Weatherill – Sales & Marketing Manager, Hope Technology
“We decided to close our factory and warehouse following the initial announcement of the lockdown. Being a local employer, this decision was influenced by our staff and our community. Our customer service staff moved to working remotely to keep answering customer enquiries.
“We saw the opportunity of producing [medical] visors on our 3D printers, so started on one design as soon as we could. However, after speaking to nurses, we realised that we could adapt our light head-harness to make a much more comfortable visor. Unfortunately, 3D printing isn’t the quickest of manufacturing processes, so our numbers are quite limited. Due to this, we’re currently only supplying our local health trusts. We also contacted several of the new ventilator projects in the UK, offering our CNC machining capacity, and have already delivered the first batch of parts to one of them.
“This time out has allowed us to plan a gradual, safe reopening of the factory. We have a few staff returning in each department so we can start to fulfil a few orders. We’ve seen a huge demand for service items for our old components that people seem to have found in the back of their garages. We’re not sure when any normality will return, if ever. At least currently we can still ride, cautiously.”
Joe Rafferty – Organiser, Ard Rock MTB Festival
“The prospect of potentially having to cancel Ard Rock 2020 is hard to swallow, but it’s of the upmost importance to do the right thing for all attendees and the host community of Swaledale. Ard Rock is more than an event – it’s a community, a place where we come together to challenge, enjoy and achieve. Rest assured, it’ll be here for years to come. When the time is right we’ll welcome everyone back together. We’re thankful to NHS staff and key workers who are selflessly keeping the wheels turning.”
Sandy Plenty – Owner, The Trailhead Bicycle Company, Shrewsbury
“Trailhead is rammed to the rafters with stock – when we have four customers in and four staff it’s rammer-jammered. With this in mind and a fast-spreading virus, we made the decision to furlough most staff. I went in the following week, only to find the phone didn’t stop and web orders were coming in thick and fast. The last week of March saw us achieve our record week in sales. I found myself packing up boxes and posting them out every day. Working in isolation with a locked front door and only one member of staff is surely the hardest retail environment!
“My moral compass was flickering though – making money from a pandemic doesn’t sit well with me. After a few days, I remembered that although business isn’t all about making money, it is a reason for taking the risk in owning your own company. I overcame my worries and kept going. Stay safe and stay close to home, folks.”
Nigel Page – Manager, Team Chain Reaction Cycles
“The health of people around the world is more important than racing bikes, and the frontline workers have to be respected the most in these challenging and scary times. However, the lockdown is a big pain for race teams, riders and race organisers. Not to mention team and event sponsors, who put in a lot of money, time, and effort to make our sport so good and exciting for everyone to watch and enjoy.
“I’ve been working all off season to get the budgets we need for racing. The sponsors had got our bikes, parts and kits to us in time for our team camp in February. Then the COVID-19 pandemic got worse and the first of the races started being postponed, and now we’re where we are today, not really knowing when we’ll be racing bikes.
“The riders have wound down their intensive training programs, especially in the gyms, which are now closed, and we’re all doing what we can from home. We’re posting as much as we can on social media channels to keep promoting our sponsors and entertain the fans. The 2020 race season is now unknown. We’re really just waiting this out to see what happens. We’ve been trying to get out for steady local rides and doing more interviews, how-to skills edits and whatever else we can to keep ourselves busy and ready for when the races start back up.”
“We’re very thankful that the UK government sees bike shops as essential retail and cycling as an acceptable form of daily exercise. As a business, we acted quickly to ensure the majority of our staff were able to work effectively from home, while reducing the number of personnel in our distribution centres to ensure the safest working environment to allow us to continue operations.
“Most bike shops have made the decision to stay open, and have found themselves servicing more bikes than ever before. We’re supporting our customer network via Freewheel.co.uk, which means we can ship directly to consumers’ homes and the local retailer still gets the sale. Our hope is that once we emerge from this crisis, more people will be riding bikes for leisure, commuting and for their physical and mental health.”
An edited version of this article originally appeared in MBUK 383, in shops now.